Arsenal

This is our fix up look sharp series, which will look to profile a selection of Premier League teams for their FPL potential. We’ll give some key info on the players, talk about their first five fixtures and pick out five key individuals from that side, then offer a verdict on them at the end.

In our final preview of select clubs, Tom finally plucks up the gumption to profile his team Arsenal’s FPL prospects for this year.

Let’s be fair. I’ve been procrastinating on this one for a little while.

I don’t want to return to last season, mentally. I see the highly irritating culmination of the many systemic symptoms of the last few years: the mid-season slump, losing in a “banker” home game, the final flourish. Except the flourish this time did not grant the usual #4thisatrophy festivities. No, last season St Totteringham’s day was replaced, as Nick never tires of reminding me, with St Arsehat’s day, and for the first time since we’ve bantered over football I’ve had to deal with his taunts on this issue. And I don’t like it.

I remember last season when we were second in January and we had momentum. How quickly things slide. The infuriating loss at the Emirates against Watford, the loss to Chelski, West Brom showing us up and, finally, the loss away at my girlfriend’s dad’s side Palace on 10th April just dejected me to such an extent that I focused solely on FPL at that point.

So, with this in mind, I, flinchingly, started to pick over the Arsene Wreckage of last season to try to find some positives for the way forward.

I’ve also found that, as the season rolls round again, I can’t help but feel the attachment rekindle. With key men Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil agitating for moves to pastures new, I instinctively feel defensive of the club, but know that the Europa League is probably not what either of them want. Me neither.

Last season’s key men

This time next year, we’ll be outta here – deal?

It seems like Sanchez will be held to his contract, which is really good in my opinion because he will react professionally to it (eventually: the “abdominal strain” Wenger reported him as having is still splitting fans on whether it should be in Dr Evil style “brackets” or not) and play well. After all, he did well for us FPL managers (my DGW37 captain) at the end of last year when he was presumably wanting to go and frustrated, so if he knuckles down to one more year, who’s to say he won’t do that again? With 24, he scored almost a third of our goals last season, outlining how much directness he provides us with: otherwise, we infuriatingly tend to try to walk it into the net. But continuing with Sanchez for now, selling to City would be a PR disaster and damage the club’s brand equity further than losing the UCL place has already. So, as I’ve said on many pods, the best for all parties is for one more year and, if we start to have success, hope Sanchez gets convinced by the team performances and potential to win trophies and signs a new deal. Even if he leaves, the club can abscond itself from blame by saying “look, we tried our best” and he’ll leave on good terms, unless he does an Adebayor-esque slide towards the fans when he (inevitably) scores against us for City.

In the case of Ozil, it looks like he’s going to run out his contract with less pressure applied to the club, principally because (unlike crown jewel Sanchez) no-one else is queuing up for his signature. I also think he’s more likely to sign on again if we begin to show some form than Sanchez is. His season ended with a decent return of 8g 11a and 167 points, yet he seemed to barely register for many last season. Don’t get me wrong here, I love the creative gracefulness of Ozil, with his Berbatov-esque nonchalant deftness on the ball and lock-picking ability (when in the mood) second to none in my opinion – the man graces our banners! An astonishing 144 chances created in 15/16 did decline to “just” 99 last year, with Christian Eriksen (one of the top chance creators) making 111, so not far off even in a down year (source: Squawka). But he certainly needs teams to be built around him, and with the new formation he still seems to be adjusting whereas the more dynamic Aaron Ramsey looks to be right at home.

Ramsey comes in at a tempting 7.0 for FPL managers, memories of the 10 goal 9 assist 13/14 season front of mind, and was in a fair few teams I’d seen before the no-show in the Charmmunity Shield dampened his appeal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played in that role, the Ox being another in his final year, without a clear role in the team once Ramsey returns and rumoured to be coveted by Liverpool. Nevertheless, Ramsey and Granit Xhaka seem to have established a good understanding as double pivot with the Swiss holding whilst the Welshman bombs forward.  The latter seems to have slowly but surely adjusted to life in North London, with him looking tidy in the shield and actually a bit like the £30m player we were expecting. With Sanchez out for the start, it could be that Nigerian international Alex Iwobi – Jay Jay Okocha’s nephew, no less! – steps up and proves shrewd value for 5.5 taking up the Chilean’s place on the flank for at least the first game.

At the back, the ever reliable (when his own back isn’t playing up) Laurent Koscielny will form the central plank of the back three – as long as we retain it. He’ll be flanked by German Shkrodan Mustafi, who will only get better plus is quite a goal threat, and also probably Nacho Monreal, with the Spaniard completing an Azpi-esque transition to left sided centre back (in a back three).

This will see Hector Bellerin and possibly the aforementioned Ox play in the RWB role – a tasty proposition if the talented Bellerin (6.0) nails the spot, with goals and assists on offer on the overlap – and new boy Sead Kolasinac fit in on the left… hopefully. Petr Cech may be showing signs of being on the decline now but remains a quality goalkeeper.

The new boys

He said I could be better than Nigel Winterburn!

I had 6.0 Sead Kolasinac – subject of our first ever prospecting the prospects article back in June! –  in my team prior to his goal in the Charmmunity Shield v Chelsea, but I think (despite not starting)  that his impact on the game and rampaging down the left will have made Wenger far more likely to include him in the opening day XI. 3 goals and 5 assists for Schalke last season, and a physique that Theo Walcott has eloquently likened to an “absolute tank”, could see him do really well this season in the Premier League, with the unknown quantity element also providing the capacity to surprise. I had hoped for 5.5, but at 6.0 I still think I prefer him as my Arsenal extra interest come the opening game. A potential hazard could be if he is played in the centre (he has before for Schalke and was tried out there in preseason) for his physical presence against teams with big men up top; one to monitor, but I’m happy to take the risk for now I think.

Of course, the fellow newcomer is the man we hope to be our messiah, Alexandre Lacazette. We noted in our prospecting the prospects article on him that his 28 goals last season does come with the caveat that a huge 10 of those were penalties, and that he hasn’t actually managed to exceed 20 goals from open play in a season yet. He’ll need to try to nab those off of Sanchez. Encouragingly here, a great article by Andy Brassell in the Independent draws comparisons between Laca’s relationship with Nabil Fekir at Lyon and the relatively similar abilities of the Fekir and Laca’s new team mate Ozil. It could be that they form quite the duo, or even trio with Sanchez involved, with Ozil given extra highly-skilled targets for the times he presses triangle. All three fit and firing simultaneously is a mouthwatering prospect for Gooners.

The first 5 fixtures

So, just two of last seasons top 4 – including Liverpool, who stole our favourite 4th spot… hmph – in the first 5 games, then.

Using the Premier League’s own “head-to-head meter”, here is their track record against these sides, and our thoughts on their imminent matchups.

Leicester (H): 22 games played in PL, 14w Arsenal, 7d, 1w Leicester

Last season: LEI 0-0 ars / ARS 1-0 lei

Relatively quiet last year, but a game with the capacity to explode, remembering the 5-2 victory for Arsenal at the King Power in 15/16. However, with a lot of key players missing for Arsenal potentially it could be a tight game – I’m hoping my man Kolasinac gets the cleanie at least.

Stoke (A): 18 games played in PL, 11w Arsenal, 3d, 4w Stoke

Last season: ARS 3-1 stk / stk 1-4 ARS

Aaron Ramsey will hope to be back for another faceoff with Ryan “Chopper” Shawcross (I kid, Shawcross isn’t that sort of player…) in a game taken seriously by those in the Potteries. Our victories over them last season probably show the gulf in class between the two sides, with Stoke in for a tricky start once more I think.

Liverpool (A): 50 games played in PL, 15w Arsenal, 17d, 18w Liverpool

Last season: ARS 3-4 liv / LIV 3-1 ars

Turning into a bit of a bogey team for us of late, the Scousers did the double over us last year, with the GW1 victory at the Emirates an immediate blow for morale last term. We’ll be hoping to avenge that in another early season game with Liverpool, and hope that our key men are all retained, fit and ready by that point as the transfer window slams shut.

Bournemouth (H): 4 games played in PL, 4w Arsenal, 1d, 0w Bournemouth

Last season: ARS 3-1 bou / BOU 3-3 ars

The ridiculously dramatic late comeback by us to rescue a point at Dean Court was as exhilarating as it was exasperating – why were we in that situation in the first place? The home fixture, though, should be a routine win for us, though a clean sheet, as we have seen, may not be likely.

(By the way, Ed has written an excellent fix up look sharp on Bournemouth if you want to know more about the Cherries)

Chelsea (A): 50 games played in PL, 19w Arsenal, 14d, 17w Chelsea.

Last season: ARS 3-0 che / CHE 3-1 ars

After last season’s defeat caused Antonio Conte to swap to 5 at the back and win the title, we definitely deserve some credit for their title… no, just kidding. A game that is always close could well be a tad tighter this year, with this being the first time Chelsea encounter Arsenal – provided Wenger keeps it – in a mirroring formation.

(Ed’s also written about Chelsea for this series, too!)

The key players

The top targets

Alexis Sanchez (12.0): once fit and reintegrated (caveat: this will be edited out if he leaves… blogger’s curse!) he will come back on the radar for FPL managers once more. He’s simply too fantastic an FPL asset not to.

Alexandre Lacazette (10.5): will he become the key man for Arsenal? The 10.5 pricetag is quite nice in that it allows us an easy downgrade or a non-crippling upgrade if he begins to look essential. Much will depend on his linkup with Sanchez and Ozil but he could emerge as the Kane-esque focal point of our attack if all goes seamlessly.

Aaron Ramsey (7.0): certainly worth monitoring at the price he’s been given, though the orange flag for a calf injury will likely put off opening day investment. He’s one of those who is liable to become a bandwagon should he start to show flashes of form: if he is getting engaged in the attack and costs significantly less than other options then I think a fair few will think “why not?” and get him in.

The signing

Sead Kolasinac (6.0): could’ve been Lacazette here, but in FPL terms we love a point scoring, attacking wing back and the signs are there that Kola could be that guy. He certainly passed the “eye-test” and, if he has a season anywhere like what Alonso managed last year, could make the 6.0 starting price great points per value.

The punt

He’s saying “Iwobi your best bargain”

Alex Iwobi (5.5): yep, with Sanchez’s abdominal injury Iwobi offers us both a short term enabling solution and a potential ultra-cost-effective route into the attack. Remembering the 5.5 category also birthed Riyad Mahrez, Josh King and Wilf Zaha, could this be his breakthrough season?

The blanker

Theo Walcott (7.5): on the periphery as last season wore on, despite initially matching Sanchez’s output, it might be that Theo is growing a mite stale at the club after more than a decade and need a fresh challenge.

The Verdict

I’m going to concentrate on FPL terms, as who knows what will happen to us in the league? We just have to hope all the key men gel together well, and quickly.

In FPL terms, I think we’re looking quite good, actually. This is mostly driven by what Wenger has said in the press recently regarding his priorities this season which, you’ll not be surprised to hear, saw him confirm that the Premier League was his key focus:

“For us it is a good opportunity to focus completely on the Premier League… I would say that the Premier League has, in my opinion, taken over from the Champions League interest-wise…

In the Europa League if we can afford sometimes to rest some players we will do it. “

(Source)

That says to me:

  1. Best team will play in the Prem
  2. Cup “B” side, or players building match fitness, will play in the Europa League

Of these, #1 is hugely significant to FPL managers if we step back from just looking at Arsenal: United, Liverpool, Chelsea, City and Spurs will all have players who will be at risk of being rested or rotated whilst they are involved in the Champions League, whereas Arsenal, freed from that like Chelsea and Liverpool were last season, will not have that issue if they elect to focus on the league.

They therefore could offer a good option for doubling or even tripling up on later in the season if it becomes clear the Wenger is prioritising the league.

This could see key men Lacazette, one of Ozil/Sanchez (possibly the former, especially if a good relationship with Laca is established) and Kolasinac/Bellerin becoming the spine of our sides, much like Alonso/Haz/Costa or Rose/Alli/Kane in recent years.

So then, all in all, it’s a season which promises much for Arsenal in terms of the potential of their key assets to deliver for us FPL managers. Currently, I’m on Kolasinac from the off as I think he has ingredients of a nice opening punt – I don’t think Nick has any of our players – but I think in time this will change and we might see two or even three of our players becoming the norm.

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